The New York Rangers’ link to a possible trade with Buffalo Sabres superstar center Jack Eichel is only getting stronger.
According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the general consensus, for now, is that the Sabres wouldn’t trade the 24-year-old until the offseason — unless it’s the Rangers.
“I know it’s white-hot in Buffalo, but I would be shocked… if the Sabres considered a trade now,” he wrote. “First, it’s something they have to come to grips with. Second, there simply aren’t a ton of teams in position to do it for budget or cap reasons. Things change in the offseason: contracts coming off the cap; the 10% summer cushion; etc.
“The Rangers are an obvious exception — they could do it at any time if they wished — although some of the proposals I’ve seen out there are kinda crazy.”
Eichel has continuously been a part of the NHL’s trade rumor mill since an interview he gave The Athletic last year admitting the frustration that has come with playing in Buffalo.
“It’s been a tough five years,’’ Eichel said. “I’m a competitor. I want to win every time I go on the ice. I want to win the Stanley Cup every time I start a season.’’
The Sabres have not come close to providing him with that sort of winning environment as they’ve finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference in each of his first five seasons.
This year is no different as the Sabres have the worst record in the NHL — the noble experiment of pairing star winger Taylor Hall on a one-year deal with Eichel failing miserably so far. Eichel has just two goals in his first 18 games this season while Hall has one.
Eichel’s struggles aside, there is no denying his talent, which has already been proven on the NHL stage. He’s never scored under 24 goals in a season since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2015 and is coming off his finest season as a pro yet, netting 36 goals and 42 assists in just 68 games before the pandemic shut down Buffalo’s season.
The Rangers certainly have the capital to acquire Eichel, whether it be through draft capital or prospects. But there likely will be hesitation if the names of say, K’Andre Miller or Kaapo Kakko come up on the Sabres’ list of demands in hypothetical trade talks.
That’s the game that comes with acquiring a star that is entering his prime years in the NHL, although it will provide some financial gymnastics for the Rangers to fit the remaining five years and $50 million of Eichel’s contract.
But the need for a player like Eichel is becoming increasingly more apparent for a Rangers team that originally seemed decently set down the middle. However, Mika Zibanejad is mightily regressing just one year after scoring 41 goals and Ryan Strome isn’t nearly the same kind of playmaker with Artemi Panarin out of the picture.
After their surprising run to the playoffs and subsequent luck in the draft lottery to land Alexis Lafreniere, the Rangers are not supposed to be going backward. Yet, here they are near the bottom of the Eastern Division as the window-shopping continues.